The physical commitment was in evidence from the very start – despite a day’s worth of rain having turned much of the performance space into a swamp an earlier decision to move indoors had been rescinded, on the basis of what can’t have been more than an hour of dry weather. But it was also visible throughout as the cast danced, loped and crawled their way around the gardens. The elemental ceremony that accompanied the marriage of Miranda (Nai Webb) and Sebastian (Mark Penwill) was a notable example – the gyrating, drumming nymph quartet managed to invest one of Shakespeare’s more irritatingly weedy young couples with an unexpected erotic grandeur.
The dramatic commitment was shown both on and off-stage. Directorial team Toby Pitts-Tucker and Salmaan Mirza made some fine decisions – while their deft handling of the text gave them the confidence to allow their cast a little improvisation (particularly in the excellent, robust clowning of Charmaine Lazenby as Stephano), they were not so blankly reverent that they could not allow lines to be garbled, swallowed or drowned out by music if the theatre of the situation demanded it. To return to Sam Kennedy, his Caliban was genuinely distressing – a stuttering, spitting man-child who manages to inspire sufficient disgust for us to come to a somewhat guilty understanding of Prospero’s cruelty.
There were a few flaws. Maanas Jain’s full-on capering as Ariel got a little wearing. Colin Burnie’s Prospero gave a performance straight out of the orotund, slightly windy school of a previous generation of Shakespearian actors – although this occasionally worked in his favour, making the character seem genuinely ‘out of time’. The promenade space was not used as imaginatively as it could have been – a lot of the time we were simply watching stuff happen in front of us in a way that could have worked equally well on an indoor stage.
These, however, really are quibbles. This was an excellent piece by anyone’s standards. Brave, thoughtful and (a rarer quality than you’d imagine) genuinely theatrical, the only thing that separated it from ‘professional’ theatre was the presence of a paycheck.